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Protect Yourself from Crime

Don't be a victim. Be Prepared.

Living in a good neighbourhood used to mean that you didn't have to worry about crime. Not any more. Criminals seem to be becoming bolder and more brazen - everywhere. The following are some general safety tips:

Street Safety

Old thinking: To avoid being trapped by a mugger, walk close to the curb.

New thinking: Walk in the middle of the sidewalk, facing traffic.

Purse snatchers who drive by or ride by on bicycles are increasingly common. Often a crime is preceded by a seemingly innocent request for directions or for the time. While it's okay to answer, experts suggest keeping your distance and continuing to walk as you respond.

After dark, consider carrying a personal alarm in your hand. If you suspect someone is following you, cross the street and, if possible, duck into a store or restaurant. If you can't shake him, scream for help or yell "Fire!" People who are reluctant to get involved with a mugging will act if they think their safety is threatened too, say Don Umber, supervisor of the Crime Prevention Analysis Unit at the Santa Monica (California) Police Department.

Old thinking: Carry your purse slung diagonally across your body.

New thinking: Carry your bag under your arm like a football.

Hooking your purse across your chest does make it more difficult to steal - but if a mugger is really determined to get the purse, this strategy also makes it easier for you to get hurt, Umber says. When possible, carry your valuables and keys in your pocket.

Old thinking: A kick in the groin is the best way to strike an attacker.

New thinking: If you're going to fight, there are tactics that are just as effective and perhaps easier to deliver.

In an attack, you'll have a split second to decide what to do. According to research, the benefits of fighting back may outweigh the risks. In a recent study of 274 women who have been physically attacked, those who fought back were more likely to escape injury than those who pleaded or offered no resistance.

If you decide to fight back, don't be half hearted. "You've got to go all out," Umber says. "Use a combination of tactics, and continue fighting until you can break away." Scream, kick the attacker's shins, stomp on his instep or strike his windpipe. Or grab the attacker's testicles, then squeeze and twist them - if this does not put him in shock, it will bring him to his knees.

Car Safety

Old thinking: When driving, keep your purse or briefcase on the seat next to you.

New thinking: Stash it under your seat or in the glove compartment.

Even in the suburbs, thieves have been known to jump out of the bushes while a car is at a stop sign or traffic light, bash in a car window, grab the purse and be off with it before the driver knows what happened. the fewer valuables in sight, the less likelihood of your car becoming a target.

Old thinking: Be sure doors are locked when kids are in the car, or when you're driving through bad neighbourhoods.

New thinking: Always lock your car doors.

Carjackers often take drivers by surprise by walking right up to the car and opening the door. Unfortunately, locking your doors is no insurance against having your car window smashed. Whenever possible at stops, keep some space between you and the car ahead so you have room to manoeuvre if someone smashes your window. If you are boxed in, lean on your horn. But if the person has a weapon, surrender whatever he wants.

Home Safety

Old thinking: If you have a high tech alarm system, you're safe.

New thinking: No security system can protect you completely.

About 50 percent of completed burglaries occur in homes where doors or windows are unlocked, according to the U.S. Department at Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey. Make sure your house is locked up even when you're inside. Doors should have heavy - duty dead-bolt locks with at least a 2 1/2 centimetre throw - they're the toughest to open. Don't leave your purse or briefcase near a window or door. And position televisions, VCRs, stereos and computers away from windows so they can't easily be seen.

While you're away, use a timer to turn lights on and off automatically; have the delivery of mail and newspapers held temporarily, or ask a neighbour to bring them in. Never announce on your answering-machine message that you're out of town.

Old thinking: Break-ins happen only at night or while you're away.

New thinking: Burglars break into houses in broad daylight, and even while the occupants are there.

Confronting an intruder can be dangerous. If possible, establish a "safe" room that you and your family can get to easily if there's an intruder and you can't flee. "The door should have a dead-bolt lock so you can lock yourself in," Umber says. If possible, place a cellular phone in the room so you or a family member can call for help in case the phone lines are cut.

Old thinking: If someone rings your doorbell and you don't want to answer, pretend you're not home.

New thinking: Always acknowledge a visitor.

The person may be casing your home to see if anyone's there. If you don't answer, you may find yourself face to face with a burglar. But use a window, peephole or intercom to screen visitors, If someone asks to use your phone in an emergency, offer to make the call while the person waits outside.

Criminals sometimes pose as delivery people, meter readers - even priests. So ask people to hold up identification to a window or peephole, If you're still suspicious, phone the company and ask if a service call was scheduled for your home. If not, call the police.

Old thinking: Once you're pulled into your driveway, you can relax.

New thinking: Don't let your guard down until you're in your locked house.

"Car-jackers, purse snatchers and burglars are now hitting people in their own driveways," says security expert Louis R. Mizell. "It's becoming one of the most dangerous areas of the home." They often follow people home from shopping centres or cash machines. Scan your driveway before getting out of your car. Always keep your garage door locked, and as you pull in or out, make sure no one ducks in while the door is still open. Before you get out of the car, have your house keys in hand, and don't overload yourself with packages.

Contact:

Victim Assistance Coordinator
Ms. Roseanne Kaupp
phone: (403) 529-8480
roseanne.kaupp@mhps.ca

Volunteer Coordinator
Ms. Deidre Giesbrecht
phone: (403)-502-8918
deidre.giesbrecht@mhps.ca

Unit Assistant
Ms. Nathalie Castets
phone: (403) 529-8469
nathalie.castets@mhps.ca